In California, every 18 months, the government lets a motorist attend traffic school in order to delete a traffic citation from his record. This usually involves sitting in a classroom for eight hours listening to lectures about traffic laws and safety. For most who attend, it does not make their driving any safer. While one may learn a few pointers about traffic law, the eight hours are mostly a waste of time, since very few citations have to do with ignorance about the finer points of the motor vehicle code.
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
Many traffic tickets have more to do with government revenue than safety. In the United States of America, some towns enact "speed traps" which catch out-of-town drivers. There are speed-limit signs that are hidden by bushes or posted where the driver can't see them, and the police lie in wait like a spider stalking flies.
Cities also post stop signs and no-turn signs which are not visible to drivers. A policeman is right around the corner, waiting for the next victim. Another trick is for the police officer to stop a car and claim that he violated a stop light or sign many blocks back. Since the typical driver does not keep track of every street he passes, and cannot remember whether he actually stopped, even though he may be in the habit of obeying street signals and signs, the driver pays the fine, since he does not know for sure that he stopped, and judges tend to rule in favor of the police.
Other drivers get stuck in situations beyond their control. You enter an intersection and then pedestrians step into the street, making it impossible to proceed. You are then stuck in the intersection and guilty of blocking traffic. If you back the car out of the intersection, that too is illegal.
Many citations are issued for speeding, and most of these drivers have indeed driven faster than the speed limit. But in the USA, the posted speed limits are unrealistic, far slower than that of most normal traffic. This creates a fertile field for predatory policing, where an officer seeking to fill his quota can randomly choose a "speeder" as prey.
The maximum speed limit in most US States is now 65 miles per hour. But safety is a matter of context. In many cases, traffic is moving quite safely at 70 miles per hour. In that context, a traffic citation is for breaking the arbitrary letter of the law, rather than for any safety threat.
Forcing the victims of traffic taxation to attend eight hours of traffic school in order to avoid higher insurance costs just adds to the tax inflicted by government. Taxes paid in money are measured, and we determine the amount of damage, but taxes paid in time are not so apparent.
Governments typically are cavalier about the time of their victims. Those called for jury duty may wait days until a panel is selected. Those with business at the Department of Motor Vehicles often need to set aside a whole day to wait in several lines. Post offices have long lines and folks waiting an hour or two for their number to be called. And a victim of entrapment or "speeding" must take a day out of his life to attend a "school" telling him to obey laws which he already knows about.
Consider how traffic enforcement could work in a consensual community. Traffic signs and signals would be placed only for safety, not for revenue. Speed limits would be set at realistic safety levels. If someone did go through a stop sign or make an illegal turn, the officer would first issue a warning. Perhaps the driver was not paying sufficient attention or was distracted. It would only be those who repeatedly violate laws who would be fined.
The best traffic enforcement penalizes actual danger, not hypothetical danger. A person driving under the influence of alcohol or recklessly endangering others should be caught and penalized. But someone who violates just the letter of the law without endangering others is only a hypothetical danger. Drivers should obey traffic laws even when there is no danger in violating them, but ideally the enforcement of penalties should focus on actual rather than hypothetical danger.
Government sets up a difficult traffic condition in the first place by creating urban sprawl and congestion. Government then punishes drivers who are just trying to economize on time without causing any actual danger. Once traffic fines and school attendance are recognized as taxes by the public, then just maybe the law will change to make it friendly to those posing no danger and inflicting penalties only on those who are actual dangers.
And if government would collect the land rent instead of taxing labor time and money, cities would be more compact, and there would be more public transit, greatly reducing the need to drive in the first place. As usual, it boils down to taxing rent, not labor.
-- Fred Foldvary
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Copyright 2000 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.